Some bite-sized thoughts and reflections on the items I’ve been reading, listening to, or watching this month.
Also: Did you read, watch, listen to, play something this month that you particularly enjoyed? Feel free to share in the comments! I’m always looking for recommendations.
Note: The following post contains spoilers for Russian Doll (both seasons), Black Sails, and for some reason Muppet Treasure Island.
What I’m reading for work
So as part of my efforts to further shore up the article I’m currently working on related to creative writing pedagogy (or, you know, procrastinate on actually finishing it even longer), I decided to read even more books about writing on top of those I looked at for my original study. That’s because the 31 books that were included in my original study were all about fiction writing and I thought it would be helpful to at least look at a few books related to other genres since this new article is about creative writing education more generally. At this point, I have now read five (out of a planned five) books about poetry, three (out of a planned five) books on creative nonfiction, and none (out of a planned five) of the books on my list where the genre of focus is more ambiguous. (If you’re a nerdy librarian like me, the subject headings on these are more likely to be something vague like “Authorship” rather than to name an actual genre of writing.) To say that I’m kind of burned out on reading books about writing at this point would be an understatement but I still think it’s important to capture, even in this small slightly more haphazard way, how books about genres other than fiction writing talk about research. Which is to say, none of the books on poetry really did but all of the books on creative nonfiction have, at least a little. This seems to support my suspicion that research is often conflated with nonfiction writing even though it’s just as important for many kinds of fiction writing, something I’d like to look into more one of these days. Anyway, I probably won’t write about the individual books the way I’ve done in the past but I feel like I’ve read enough books about writing at this point that I’ll be doing a special post in the near future naming the ones that I personally liked the best or found most valuable. So if you’re interested in this topic, keep an eye out for that.
What I’m listening to/playing/doing for fun
Fender Play: As a teenager, I used to take weekly guitar lessons from my aunt. In the space of a couple of years, I learned some good basics and how to play about half of “Blackbird” by the Beatles. (I was not a super talented or committed student.) Then I went off to college and my guitar got stolen when my parents’ house was robbed one day. I never replaced it and never really planned to. Then I walked into a local music store back in February as part of a creative research activity and was surprised to find myself actually trying out a few guitars while I was there. Not only that, but I still remembered how to play about a quarter of “Blackbird.” So, yeah. I let myself get talked into buying one (a Luna acoustic, if you’re interested) but this time I was determined to be more diligent in my learning. I quickly discovered a couple of great free channels on YouTube. And because I was watching those, I was inevitably bombarded with ads for Fender Play, a paid platform. Even though I probably could have learned everything I wanted from YouTube, I ended up subscribing as a way to build up my knowledge about technique. So far, I have not regretted it. Which is to say, the Level 1 course on guitar playing starts out super, super basic. Like “these are the strings and when you strum them, the guitar makes a sound” kind of basic. Luckily, the platform gives you the flexibility to skip ahead if you want to. It still took me a few weeks (of very irregular practice) to get to the lessons on one finger C and G chords and by then I’d already learned a few slightly more challenging (but still beginner level) chords from YouTube. But I still appreciated how what I was learning helped me better understand basic technique and the format for the learning experience is very well done. For most lessons, you see a video where an instructor describes and demonstrates what you’re about to learn and invites you to play along. Then the next step is a “Practice mode” where you, as the name suggests, practice on your own along with a track that lets you hear how what you’re playing is supposed to sound. There’s also a “Feedback mode,” which I haven’t tried yet. It’s super simple and easy to follow and, as I said, very well done. I also discovered some of the platform’s more exciting content by watching Fender’s weekly live show on YouTube, which is lively discussion of some featured technique or genre where the hosts answer users’ questions. Links to each technique discussed are always included as part of the show, which is how I discovered a lesson on hybrid picking that made me feel very cool. Playing guitar again has been surprisingly enjoyable and I feel like Fender Play is giving me a lot of the tools I need to feel like I’m making progress as a player. Definitely recommended for casual players like me.
What I’m watching for fun
It doesn’t help that when Alan is first introduced, it’s implied that he has a history of using his mental health issues to manipulate his longtime girlfriend, i.e. threatening to hurt himself if she breaks up with him. I’ve had too much real-life experience with that sort of thing to enjoy its portrayal in a fictional character.
Okay, it’s not really a cameo. He’s given second billing on most of the episodes and has a decent amount of screentime. But his story goes nowhere. The interaction he has with the ghost(?) of his grandmother at the end, which is intended to explain much of his recent journey, made me a little mad that we didn’t get to see more of that journey. There’s some really interesting stuff there!
To be fair, this show does have some queer elements but the same sex relationships between the female-identifying characters are clearly shot with a straight male audience in mind and the reveal about Captain Flint in season two was done with so much plausible deniability that if you happen to miss the last 10-15 minutes of the one episode where Flint and Hamilton actually kiss, you could be excused for not knowing that their relationship was anything other than a particularly close friendship. That said, the whole “Know No Shame” thing was very well done. This show is less than 10 years old but I feel like it if came out now, they’d be able to do a lot more with this aspect of the story. It seems like they wanted to but they also didn’t want to scare off the intended (straight male) audience by making it too much of a Thing.
Not a spoiler, at least not if you know Long John Silver as the one-legged pirate from Treasure Island. But actually I did forget that he only had one leg in the book so I was kind of surprised when this happened on the show. Then felt dumb for being surprised because I did, after all, watch Muppet Treasure Island approximately a million times when I was a kid and having only one leg is kind of one of the character’s defining characteristics.